The Founding of Chiang Mai
Chiangmai was founded in 1291 A.D. by King Mengrai and was established as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom at that time. Various histories plot the founding of Chiangmai in various ways, but historically clear evidence shows that Chiangmai was the ultimate achievement in the career of Mengrai, in a long chain of city founding from northern Burma down to Chiangmai itself. Over a period of more than 50 years in the l3th century, Mengrai moved southward from southern China. first founding Chiang Toong in northern Burma, then founding Chiangrai in 1262 A.D.. and much later founding Chiangmai after a long war with the Mon Haripoonshal Kingdom at Lumpoon.
The conquest of Haripoonshai came at a time when that Kingdom was aligned with the Mon-hhorm Kingdom at Lopburi. It was achieved in 1291 A.D., and must be properly seen as part of the downfall of the Khorm Anghor Kingdom. The Tais, first at Chiang Saen and then Vientiane, had long been involved in repealing Khorm attempts at domination, and Mengrai's attack on Haripoolshai was the first time the Tais were known to have reversed the roles and became the attackers. At the time of Mengrai's successful conquest of Haripoonshal he was battling two peoples in the area, the Mons and the Lawa tribes who had traditionally inhabited the North long before the Mons or the Khorm arrived. Mengrai 's conquest of Harlpoonshai was not an incidental event in the history of the North, nor was it accidental. With Tai domination of the Mon Buddhist Kingdom of Haripoonshai, Mengrai was able to build the city of his dreams, Chiangmai, and to establish the city as his capital for life. He had the skilled artisans and craftsmen of Haripoonshai brought to the site of Chiangmai to contribute to its building and its magnificence.
The city was built on an area that was nearly square, measuring 800 meters east to west and 790 meters north to south. A defensive moat was built around the city along with a defensive brick wall. Fortified gates were built and they were guarded, and within the city the capital was secure while without the fertile land was ready for farming. The city was built in a grid pattern with roads intersecting each other, east to west and north to south, and the building of temples began.
The first temple in Chiangmai was Wat Chiang Mun, located within the moat at the northeast corner. It was founded by Mengrai himself soon after the founding of Chiangmai and it's where Mengrai spent his final years in residence before his death. This temple has two elegant wiharns in the Lanna style, with sparkling white walls, gilded windows in glass mosaic, and wood-carved lintels and eaves. Solid teak pillars were used to support the structures and temple guardian figures were cast in the beautiful Lanna black and gold lacquer work so famous to northern Thailand.
Wat Phra Singh was built on the western side of the city, inside the moat, in 1345 A.D., and this temple, like many others in Chiangmai, was built upon further over the centuries. The most attractive part of this temple, historically is a small wiharn in the back called the Lai Kham, where the Phra Singh Buddha rests. This is a golden Buddha displayed on a golden throne, with other images around it. The Phra Singh Buddha image has a history almost as interesting as that of the Emerald Buddha. It is said to have been cast In gold in the year 360 A.D., in Sri Lanka. Centuries later it ended up in Nakhon Si Thammarat after a shipwreck and in 1389 it became part of Wat Phra Singh in Chiangmai. In 1548 it was taken to Luang Prabang in Laos, then a part of the Lanna Kingdom, and then on to Ayutthaya in 1622. It was returned to its place at Wat Phra Singh in 1767.
A third historic temple that depicts the founding of Chiangmai is Wat Chedi Luang. This temple is in the south-central part of the city, inside the moat, and it was originally four small temples that were combined to form the temple complex. The chedi itself was first built in 1381. It measured 2282 feet in height and 144 feet in width at the base. Rows of elephant heads were sculpted along each side and porticos were built into the top of the edifice. Wat Chedi Luang when built, was located 50 meters south of the center of Chiangmai and this is where the original Chiangmal city pillar stood. Today the city pillar rests upon the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang itself. Today, Wat Chedi Luang is the main center of Buddhist instruction in Chiangmai.
Among the many early temples of Chiangmai, there were those also outside the moat and the city gates. One of these was Wat Suan Dorg in the west. Built in 1383, it demonstrates the unique sculpture, wood work and glass mosaic work of the early Lanna Kingdom. Burmese Influence in Chiangmai temple design and architecture began in 1455 with the founding of Wat Chedi Jed Yord outside the city moat to the northeast. In 1457, King Tilokarat of Lanna sent monks to the Mahabodhi temple In Pagan to make drawings and from these Wat Chedi Jed Yord was built. The Mahabodhi temple of Pagan, and also the original in India. is one of the most famous Buddhist temple constructions in Asia, and King Tiloharat had Wat Chedi Jed Yord built on this model to commemorate the 2, anniversary of the Buddha's death, and for the preparation of the Eighth World Buddhist Meeting held in Chiangmai in the year 1477.
Chiangmai. became not only the center of the Lanna Kingdom, but also the center of Buddhism in northern Thailand. At the height of its power, Lanna, with Chiangmai at the center, extended as far north as Chiang Toong in the Shan State of Burma, as far east as Luang Pradbang and Vientiane in Laos, as far south as Khampaenpphetnear Sukhothai, and as far west as Mae Hong Sorn. Mengrai's dream City eventually attracted the power of Burma which occupied Chiangmai for nearly 300 years; and ultimately Chiangmai and Lanna were incorporated into Thailand at the end of the 19th century.
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